Wednesday, June 25, 2008

e-vo for week of June 25

Dearest e-votees-

June 24 (Tuesday of this week) is a day set aside in our church year to commemorate John the Baptist.

John came to call people to repentance (to turn away from shameful things towards God).

John came to set the stage that he might decrease so that Jesus might increase (to allow things to die that the work of God might live).

Our assigned text from Romans for this coming Sunday resonates with the life, work and testimony of this cousin of Jesus.



Here is a portion of our reading from Romans for Sunday:

When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:21-23, NRSV

This text is a wonderful summary of our circumstance.

We are born as slaves to our sinful inclinations. John the Baptist knew that and pointed it out often. We are born with a freedom to do as we choose (and the opportunity to suffer the natural consequences of those choices). Left to our own choices and our own devices we find ourselves in places of death. That is the law. That is our lot apart from God. That is distinctly bad news.

We have been freed from sin and enslaved to God through baptism. God continues to work in us and shape us into who we are meant and called to be—this is called sanctification. The end of God’s work to free us from sin and press us into service of God is eternal life. This is the incredibly good news.

Our lives aren’t so simple as “I once was lost, but now am found”. The truth is we still lean back into the bad news. We dabble in being lost. We think to ourselves “You know, things weren’t really that bad in Egypt. I kind of liked the food. Pharaoh wasn’t such a bad oppressor. I’m not always sure where this path I am on is leading. Maybe I ought to give Egypt one more try.” We toy and flirt with returning to being enslaved by something other than God. Paul is clear—and we should be too—that this kind of thinking ends in death.

The good news is that God is more faithful in pursuing us than we are faithless as we pursue things other than God. Even though we all dabble in shameful things when left to our own devices there is good news. The word translated into “you now are ashamed” above also shows up in Hebrews 2:11:

For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, (NRSV)

Jesus comes to us and calls us sisters and brothers before we can do anything to earn it—pure gift. When we choose to neglect our faithful and loving God and turn to shameful things Jesus comes to us again—pure gift. We have been baptized—pure gift. We are continually being shaped into the likeness of God—pure gift. All these facets of this gift reflect the beauty of eternal life in Christ Jesus—an incredible treasure.

God, help us to know the gift of eternal life in Jesus today. Help trust in the one not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. Help us step away from shameful things in our past and that entice us this very day. Stir us to serve well to your glory today. Amen.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

e-vo for week of June 18

Dearest e-votees-

The texts for this week have a palpable intensity. They are good ones in which to steep ourselves. But remember Isaiah 55:10-11, God’s words don’t return empty. If we spend too much time with these powerful texts we will undoubtedly be changed.

If you still want to read them all they are:

  • Jeremiah 20:7-13
  • Psalm 69:7-10 [11-15] 16-18
  • Romans 6:1b-11
  • Matthew 10:24-39

We’ll use the text from Romans to shape our reflection this week.



Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:1b-11, NRSV

I have the privilege of being part of a baptism this coming Sunday. There are few greater joys in the work of a pastor than participating in the sacraments, engaging significant junctions in people’s lives with words of grace (and admonition) and witnessing God’s saving work in the lives of others. A baptism is all three of these joys.

Baptism is sacramental. A common element—water. God’s command—the Great Commission. A means of grace—remission of sins and adoption into God’s family. When baptisms occur there is a holy exchange. God, Jesus, takes on our lot. We, by God’s grace, take on Jesus’ rightful place. Luther called this the “happy exchange”. Through water, word and faith we are drawn into the community of the Trinity.

Baptism is an incredibly significant junction in our lives. As Paul says in the Romans text we are buried in baptism into Christ’s death. We are also attached to the resurrection. Despite the pretty baptismal gown, the smiling faces in the pictures and the brunch afterwards baptism is much more akin to death. The gown is like a pall on the coffin of our old Adams and old Eves. Tears of repentance and contrition knowing what Jesus underwent that we might freely be saved are appropriate. A meal commemorating the death and what it achieved are more appropriate—but we rush ahead. Communion is for another installment. In terms of life passages baptism is as profound as it gets. That is why Luther counsels us to return to our baptisms daily.

Baptism is God’s saving work on our lives. We cannot save ourselves. Even if we could we would most likely choose otherwise. Works of the flesh cannot liberate the spirit. We are snared by sin. But Paul counsels us to rest in our baptisms and consider ourselves dead to sin. God brings life from death. God brings hope to despair. God brings gospel promise to our souls just as surely as our vain attempts to fulfill the law bring death and grief.

God, be with all who are baptized. Be with all who will be baptized. Help us to lose any illusions that we have chances of salvation outside of your gracious provision. Continue to make us alive in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

e-vo for week of June 11

Dear e-votees-

Another early installment. I am out of the office this week. Have a blessed day.

For this week’s installment I thought we might use the appointed Psalm—100.



Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name. For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 100, NRSV

What a powerful psalm of praise and rejoicing. It is full of hope and belonging and inclusivity. Wouldn’t it be something to be walking along in a garden and overhear someone across the hedge—oblivious to your presence—singing or reciting this psalm to God? Wouldn’t it beckon you? Wouldn’t it stir you to hope and joy?

I wonder if strangers came into our worship—with us oblivious to their presence—if they would experience this psalm in the flesh. Do we make joyful noises? Do we worship with gladness and sing with enthusiasm? Do we know God made us? Do we know that we are God’s? Do we invite the whole earth to join in the song? Do we give thanks? Do we bless God’s name? Do we rejoice in God’s faithfulness?

Of course we aren’t always going to be oozing joy and enthusiasm towards God. There is a reason there are 150 psalms of all stripes and varieties. There are times for lament. There are times for rage. There are times for hope. There are times for joy. I like Deitrich Bonhoeffer’s construction as the Psalter (our psalms) being the prayerbook of the Bible. No matter where we find our hearts, our hearts can be found in the words of the psalms. Do we allow our hearts to be found in Psalm 100?

My hope and prayer is that all of us can know times reflective of Psalm 100. Sometimes we fall into despair. Sometimes church becomes a chore. Sometimes we feel as if we don’t belong. Sometimes we are certain others don’t belong. We let circumstances and people mute our worship. Perhaps committing Psalm 100 to memory would be a good discipline.

Jesus wasn’t reading from Psalm 22 when he was on the cross. He had taken that psalm into his heart and soul and mind and it was there for him when he needed it. Perhaps Psalm 100 is something we would do well to imbed into our heart and soul and mind as well.

God, help us to live into the joy and worship of Psalm 100. Stir us to beckon others into that place as well. Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of earthly fathers. Help us celebrate and rejoice in, for and with them this coming weekend. Amen.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

e-vo for week of June 4

Dearest e-votees-

Chances are the sermons you experience this weekend won’t lean too heavily on our appointed text from Hosea.

Our Revised Common Lectionary only visits Hosea just a few times in the 3 year cycle. The most regular and attentive church goers will still only hear just a touch of Hosea in the context of worship.

Perhaps we can give Hosea a more attentive ear and eye at least for today.



I will return again to my place until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face. In their distress they will beg my favor: “Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his appearing is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us like the showers, like the spring rains that water the earth.”

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early. Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have killed them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Hosea 5:15-6:6, NRSV

This is a striking passage. God likens the love of the people to morning mist that burns off early. This evokes comparison to the manna that God provided during the sojourn in the wilderness. Every day the dew came and when it evaporated there was God’s provision in the form of a flaky, coriander tasting gift of grace (Exodus 16:13-15 and surrounding passages). Yet in spite of that faithful provision the people’s hope and trust and love burned off in a hurry. God’s love came in the manna and the people’s love left like the dew. It brings to mind how quickly we let our hearts and our souls and our minds and our strengths get turned away from God.

God’s words come from the prophets. God’s judgment and revelation come in the words from God’s mouth. So the people hear and want to respond with offerings or religious practices or outward actions. God wants their hearts. They want to steel themselves to endure the hard moments but God wants the sustained love.

This text from Proverbs 2 uses the same word for knowledge of God that is in our text from Hosea:

My child, if you accept my words and treasure up my commandments within you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; if you indeed cry out for insight, and raise your voice for understanding; if you seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures—then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.

Proverbs 2:1-5, NRSV

Some days I really want to live out this text in the pursuit of the Lord. Other days that desire burns off like the morning mist. Other days it is hard to know if the dew even made an appearance. But in the midst of our mists the manna still comes.

The reality is that we cannot make the sacrifices and muster the will to do what is required. So God—aka Jesus—came to do what we could not. He is the one who was ultimately torn and killed. It was Jesus who took on death and was raised on the third day. It is Jesus whose love is steadfast and who has the real knowledge of God.

That same Jesus came into this world to reach out to all sorts of folks on the fringes—bleeding women, tax collectors, sinners, dead daughters (just to rattle off those in this week’s gospel) and people with misty faiths like ours. Jesus came to do what we could not and to reach across the breach separating God and us. Jesus comes quoting and fulfilling our text from Hosea. We are freed and invited to know Jesus. As we grow in knowledge of Jesus so too in knowledge of God.

Dear God, give us ears to hear Hosea—hew us and kill us as you see fit. Give us eyes to see Jesus—in those we love and especially in those who are harder to love. Give us hearts to love you—help us be steadfast and ever-deepening in our knowledge of you. Amen.